The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Have you ever been around somebody who over-analyzes everything? It can be exhausting! And a lot of times their "super in-depth analysis" misses the mark. They get so busy analyzing the minutia that they miss the big picture. This happens a lot with parables. There is always a danger with parables that you over-analyze and over-allegorize the parable. What I mean by that is that you start looking for and attaching deep, symbolic meaning to every little thing and word in the parable…even things that were never intended to carry deeper theological meaning. Sure, you may sound smart, perhaps even "super faithful," to some folks, but the sad truth of the matter is that such over-allegorizing only means that you miss the actual meaning of the parable. By working so hard at trying to sound as smart as (or smarter than) Jesus, you wind up missing what Jesus is actually teaching. You wind up missing the point.
This happens a lot with today's parable—the parable of the five wise/prudent virgins and five foolish virgins. People get so bogged down with every little detail, trying to explain such things as what the oil in the lamp represents or what it means to trim the wick or what it means to go out and buy more oil in the middle of the night from merchants (who are these merchants, and why are they open at night?) that they miss the meaning of the parable: "Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
Now, to be fair, we are about two thousand years removed from Jesus' first telling of this parable. Things were very different then. Some explanations are necessary. For example, the faithful of Jesus' time were living on-edge. They believed that Jesus really was the Messiah, the Son of God. They also firmly believed that as God's Messiah, Jesus would pull the trigger and bring about Judgment Day…very soon. Unfortunately, things were taking longer than they had expected or hoped for. Some of them; some of their loved ones were losing patience and losing hope (or even dying) before that highly anticipated day. Does this mean that they missed out? Jesus tells this parable to His faithful disciples in order to allay their fears about dying before Judgment Day and possibly missing out on God's righteousness. He tells this parable to His faithful disciples in order to teach them and urge them to remain faithful and patient; to let God work His plan according to His timeline. He's got it all figured out. He's in control, and it's all working according to His plan and timeline…perfectly.
Here we are two thousand years later, and in terms of waiting for and watching for the return of Christ, things have gotten worse…much worse. We don't have that sense of urgency anymore, do we? We don't think like our early Christian parents did. For us Judgment Day is sometime in the far-distant, perhaps even "fairytale," future. The thought of Jesus actually returning on clouds with the sound of a mighty war trumpet blaring and the dead rising to life? We tend to treat all that almost like it is a fairytale. Sure, it will happen. We're not rank unbelievers. But do you honestly think it could happen today? Tomorrow? In our lifetime? Not really.
If you think I'm wrong in this assessment (i.e., "Not me! I don't think like that at all!"), just examine the sins you daily, willingly, and knowingly commit, firmly confident that you can always repent and confess later on. "Sunday is just around the corner. Christmas is just around the corner. I'm going to do what I want right now, and I'll just repent later. I'll repent on Sunday." What if Jesus returns before then?
What if you knew Jesus was coming before next Sunday; before Christmas; before this service let out? Would it change you? Would it light a fire under you to reach out to those foolish loved ones who've let their flame of faith flicker out? They still have time right now to fill up on oil. It's still daytime. Do you encourage this filling up on life-saving oil right now, or are you willing to sit back and wait for a "more opportune time"? What if the next opportune time is your funeral? What if it's their funeral? It's too late then. "Go away. I don't know you." What if you did know Christ would return within the next hour? Would this knowledge change you? And then the next question is: WHY would such knowledge change you? After all, if you believe like you say you do, there shouldn't be a difference, right? "Come, Lord Jesus…just not yet." That's not exactly how it goes.
And this is actually one of the other problems that Jesus was confronting/addressing with this parable. Some faithful people were losing patience. Think of John the Baptist in prison. "Are you the one to come, or should we be looking for another?" Things weren't shaking out as quickly as John had expected or anticipated. This is still a problem today, isn't it? Things don't shake out the way we expect. Things don't happen immediately (or at least as quickly) or neatly as we'd like. We pray. We put money in the plate. We blow the dust off our Bible and read a whole chapter…and nothing happens. In terms of Church/faith we get bored. We get tired. We get complacent and lackadaisical. "Why try? Why put in all this effort and work and money and time? Nothing is changing." Missing one Sunday won't hurt, right? It's all the same thing every week. Missing one Sunday won't hurt. That one Sunday turns into two, which easily turns into a month, which, before you know it, turns into "I'm a good Christian. So what if I haven't been to church since the Reagan administration? I still love Jesus. He knows my heart." You sure about that? "Go away. I don't know you." Are you willing to chance that? It doesn't end well.
Of course, there's also the flip-side to this, which we can be just as guilty of, and which ends with the same tragic result. Maybe we don't get bored or complacent or lackadaisical. Maybe we don't fall away and have our faith flicker out because we never bothered to let God refuel us with His Word and Sacraments. Okay…great. There's also the other extreme, which is to make yourself very busy; very occupied; very distracted. That sounds a lot like, "Yeah, yeah, I know, I know…." People act like they've got this whole "faith/Church thing" mastered. "I know Jesus loves me. I know He's working all things for my good. I know all this." Okay…so why is your life a dead-ringer for someone who doesn't know this or believe this?
You know what I mean. Things start stacking up and getting tough, and instead of recognizing that maybe God is trying to slow you down and "still" you so that you can actually hear what He has to say, you instead kick into a frenzied, busied state, working even harder to try and drown out the pain of the cross you're bearing. It's called escapism. All that busy-ness doesn't make the cross go away, does it? Instead of bearing that cross faithfully and patiently, holding fast to God and His Word and His means of grace, we instead consume ourselves with work, with chores, with recreation, with drugs, with alcohol, with anything that will take our minds off of our present trial and tribulation. Escapism. It happens all the time…even to congregations. Escapism shows how foolish we really are…in spite of how wise we think we may be.
What does the wise/prudent/faithful one do when they are faced with tentatio (struggling)? Answer: The faithful one doesn't try to escape their cross. They don't shun the cross out of impatience or boredom, hoping for a better deal or a new and improved wheel to help solve their problems and scratch their itches. The wise and faithful one turns and holds fast to God and His Word. They turn to God in prayer—yes—but more importantly they turn to God in order to hold fast to Him and LISTEN to Him. In order to listen, one must stop all the hustle and bustle. One must stop doing all the talking. The faithful one turns to God and LISTENS to His Word; His comfort; His Gospel promise; His peace.
Believe it or not, but this faithful listening is what Jesus is getting at when He says at the end of this parable, "Watch…for you know neither the day nor the hour." I know "listening" and "watching" seem like two very different things, but they are not; not when it comes to saving faith. This command to "watch" isn't a warning (which is how it's often treated). We tend to hear "watch out!" as if Jesus is threatening us. "Watch out, or you're going to wind up with the five foolish virgins, locked out and in the dark, weeping and gnashing your teeth." That's NOT what Jesus is saying here!
This is a loving call to patient faithfulness. This is Jesus very clearly, patiently, and lovingly saying, "Be on watch. Remain watching. Remain vigilant. Stay the course. Don't fall asleep. Don't get lackadaisical. Don't let boredom lull you away. Don't let your self-imposed busy-ness get the better of you and lure you away. Be patient, remain patiently faithful, and stay watching."
My dear brothers and sisters: Here is where your Lord and Savior directs to watch. He's not gone. He's not absent from you. He's right here; right where He tells you to look. Here is your Bridegroom! In the midst of the darkness and despair and fear and uncertainty…look here! Listen here! I'll be the first to admit that this [Word and Sacrament] isn't as glorious and terrifying and awesome as that last day will be when Christ returns in all His heavenly glory and might. But…here He is, right now, right where He tells you to look.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: I can't make you see this great comfort and peace that your holy Bridegroom is so lovingly, willingly, patiently, and unconditionally holding out to you. I can't make you want this or desire this, especially over and above all the other alternatives the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh offer to you. All I can do is exactly what I'm doing now; the exact same thing that all the faithful prophets and priests have done before me: I point you to Christ. I point you to your Bridegroom in your midst. I point you to His gifts; His down-payments and dowries of grace, comfort, and peace; a peace that surpasses all understanding and will only be surpassed when you are seated with your Bridegroom in glory at the heavenly wedding feast table. Until then, your Lord gives you all that you need to keep your flame of faith burning bright. He gives you His holy Word, His holy Baptism, and His holy Body and Blood. He gives you the gift of Himself, and He gives you this gift so that you may ever remain confidently and patiently secure in Him, no matter how dark or uncertain things may get.
May your flames of faith ever burn bright as you patiently and faithfully watch and wait and live for your Bridegroom's triumphant and glorious return. Remain patiently faithful. Remain faithfully patient. Watch, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Until then, your Lord and Bridegroom knows what He's doing, and He's doing it all for the good of those who love Him.
May your lives ever and always shine bright with the light of Christ, and may this light and joy of the Gospel shine forth in all that you say and do, now and into all eternity.
In the name of Jesus…AMEN.
Feel free to use any or all of this sermon for the edification of God's people. It is NOT necessary to ask my permission for any of it! In fact, you don't have to mention me at all. (I think it's highly problematic when pastors seek credit/glory for sermons inspired by the Holy Spirit!) Give praise to God for the fact that He continues to provide for His people.
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